Interview with LOUIS BIANCANIELLO, songwriter/producer for Anastacia, Jessica Simpson, Whitney Houston, 98 Degrees - Dec 17, 2001
“One of the key lessons I’ve learned is to pay attention to details and to be open to possibly being wrong.”
Based in California, USA, Louis Biancaniello now forms a songwriting/production team together with Sam Watters (of Color Me Badd fame). Artists he has produced include Anastacia, Jessica Simpson, Whitney Houston, 98 Degrees, Lara Fabian, Shanice, Elton John and Diana Ross, to mention a few.
Here he tells us about how it all started and what you should think of to become a successful songwriter/producer.
How did you first get started in the music industry and how did you become a songwriter/producer?
I’m a keyboard player and I started playing in a band at a very young age. I released a record when I was 9 years old. So, I spent a lot of time playing in a band and recording. I moved on to become a musical arranger/director for various bands and I also played as a sideman for artists for about three years. At the same time I wrote and produced songs for my own bands. I used to do a lot of arranging for real horns, real strings and for real musicians. I got the experience on how to arrange for pop records. After producing for a while you can start getting good at it.
I have worked with several “top name” producers along the way, Don Was, Val Garay, Narada Michael Walden, Quincy Jones, Walter Affanasieff…etc. People who knew what they were doing. When you’re working with people like that you just try to absorb what they’re doing, pay attention to it and try to develop your own style at the same time.
What did you do early on in your career to showcase your material?
I contacted publishers, managers, producers, etc. I didn’t have much luck with the publishers but it worked out well with the producers. After a while people start seeing your talent, your name starts getting around and they take you more seriously. I would say that the best way to get a song recorded is to work directly with the artist. To write with the artist is the surest way of getting it on the record.
What important events have led to you moving forward?
My first No.1 record, the Lisa Fischer track “How Can I Ease The Pain” in 1991, which I co-produced with Narada Michael Walden. That and a bunch of things I did with Narada, for example Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” for which I did all the music. I guess it really started going then. That’s when I really developed my style that would lead me in the R&B, Pop direction. A hit gives you confidence. Jessica Simpson and Anastacia are also two projects that have led me forward.
You form a production team with Sam Watters, how does your collaboration look like?
We just basically do everything together. Of course, he’s not a keyboard player and I’m not a singer, so as far as actual performance on the records I do all the keyboard stuff and Sam will do all the background singing. But we make all the decisions together, we write the songs together and we’re partners in all final decisions. A lot of times Sam will be vocal coaching because that’s really his expertise, he can sing all the ad libs and nuances and I will be concentrating on the track. During the productions we constantly bounce our ideas off each other.
How did you meet and what led you to start producing together?
I co-produced a song with Narada for Color Me Badd in 1996 called “The Earth, The Sun, The Rain”. It was not a huge hit but it was top forty. So I met Sam through that and we started writing together. He was still in Color Me Badd and I ended up producing their next album on Sony. We just really enjoyed writing together. Eventually some of our songs got picked up by signed artists so we produced them together. Sam quit the band and we went full time as a production team.
How do you two find work?
We are currently signed to Sony with a production deal, so right now we do a lot of Sony artists. We also have our own label now called Breakthrough Records and we’ll be coming out with an album next year with our first act: Aranda. They are incredibly talented and true star material.
Sometimes people find us through our attorneys. Sometimes they call our production company and get in touch with us.
Which are your most useful contacts?
A&R people are very important. You have to establish relationships with the A&R people and then they’ll let you know what their upcoming projects are and what kind of songs they need for them. Other songwriters…people who have success can lead you to important contacts. We’ve gotten a lot of our projects through publishers and managers as well…
How much can a producer make in flat fees producing a track for a major artist?
Never enough! You’re going to make the bulk of your money off your royalties. I wouldn’t get into the business of producing records to try to make money up front. Advances could range from 5.000 to 100.000$.
What do you look for in artists when considering producing them?
Star quality is the first thing we look for. Do we think this person has a shot in today’s market at being a total star? It’s also the persona that they project. That’s very important because even if someone can sing, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to sell records. Equally as important is that they are musically talented because we really do want to do great music. We want to be proud of our projects. We’re in this to make some great music.
What do you look for in the team around the artist? Is that a big factor as well?
It could be. You want to make sure that they’ll have success, that they have the team to make the record and that they have an expertise at marketing. If there was a weak link, let’s say they have a bad manager, we’d have to weigh the options to see if we think that the song and the artist are enough to pull off a hit. And if that were the case, we’d most likely do something. But if the artist was great, the song was great, but they are on a horrible label that’s never sold a record, we’d probably pass. It just depends what the weak link is.
What are you currently working on production-wise?
We’ve just finished work on Anastacia’s new album “Freak Of Nature”. We just finished work on an artist from Spain named Monica Naranjo who has sold a bunch of records in Spain. We’re also getting ready to finishing the record of our new act Aranda.
What do you think are the key things you’ve learned as far as producing, over the years?
One of the key lessons I’ve learned is to pay attention to details and to be open to possibly being wrong. You can be wrong and maybe someone else’s opinion is right. You should listen to other people and see what they’re saying about the production and the music. Sometimes you get so close to a song that you can’t really hear it objectively. You just have to be really open and attentive. At the same time you must balance this with trust in your own instincts. You want to have you own heart felt in the music you produce and write.
Do you have your own studio?
Yes. I have two Sony DMXR 100 consoles linked together, just about every keyboard made, and a couple of really big Pro Tools rigs. We record primarily to Pro Tools.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Do you think contacting and sending demos to producers is a good tool for unsigned aspiring artists/songwriters?
Not as good as you would think because producers are really busy. But it depends who the producer is. If he’s not a songwriter as well, maybe. A lot of times it’s not the best way to be heard. It’s unfortunate. Producers don’t ignore people’s demos to be cruel; it’s just that you’re so busy with the projects you already have going. I think it’s probably better if you met them in person and played it.
Do you write specifically for artists or write in general?
We usually write specifically for artists. We do sometimes come up with a song out of the blue but we are in a position where we have to come up with a song for a particular artist.
What advice would you give aspiring songwriters in terms of songwriting itself?
I would say: write from the heart yet don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Make sure it’s original, but don’t try to get so far out with chords or words. That is if you’re trying to be a commercial songwriter. At the same time don’t try to be too contrived.
What do you think is important to think about when one goes into a co-writing situation?
You should definitely think about what you’re going to bring to the table. Think about what you can offer and what you can do to compliment what this person does. You can maybe have a few things prepared that are half done unless you’re a spontaneous writer. It’s important to compromise, but not to the point of compromising the integrity of the song.
You have your own publishing company, what led you to start that?
There was no need to start it until I had songs placed on commercial records. Once I had songs on records I started a publishing company to collect royalties.
Do you have a sub-publishing deal with a major publisher?
Yes, I’m currently with Sony ATV Music Publishing. The pros of that are that they can help you place your songs and they’ll give you an advance up front. They will of course administrate the publishing, which is something you won’t have time to do anyway. The cons… are that you’re giving away part of your publishing.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career so far?
The greatest moment of my music career so far is yet to come. So far I’ve been involved in three Grammies, but have never actually received one.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I think I’ll still be producing and writing. I hope that our record company is further along and that we’ll have hits with our record company.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would have people search for REAL talent! We all know that there are some things out there that are a bit lacking. And at the same time there are people out there that are incredible. It’s a tough job because real stars are really hard to find. Now that I have a record company I can see what labels go through to find the real deal.
Interviewed by Jean-Francois Mean
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